Interview With

Prof. Archie E. Roy
Archie E. RoyInterviewed by Michael E. Tymn

Whenever psychical researchers discuss the best evidence on record for the survival of consciousness after physical death, the so-called “cross-correspondences” are often listed as number one. However, the researchers always point out that the cross-correspondences are so complex that they are beyond the comprehension of anyone who is not a classical scholar and not prepared to spend years in studying the messages. “Whatever else they are, they are eminently communications from a man of letters, to be interpreted by scholars, and they are full of obscure classical allusions,” wrote Sir Oliver Lodge, the distinguished British physicist and psychical researcher.

Dr. Archie E. Roy, professor emeritus of astronomy and honorary research fellow in the University of Glasgow, has studied the cross-correspondences and written about the key cases in a book, The Eager Dead, recently released by Book Guild Publishing of England. While the cross-correspondences are the core of the book, it is also a story of love and intrigue during the Edwardian age. Chief among the characters still in this realm of existence at the time are Arthur James Balfour, prime-minister of England from 1902-06, Lord Gerald William Balfour, his brother, Winifred Coombe-Tennant, an affluent English woman (British delegate to the League of Nations) who used the pseudonym “Mrs. Willett” so that no one would know that she was a medium, and Henry Coombe-Tennant, her son, who was completely unaware for most of his life of his mother’s mediumship or his own involvement in many of the cross-correspondences.

After receiving his B.Sc. from Glasgow University in 1950, Roy earned his Ph.D. in 1954. He then spent four years as a science master in Shawlands Academy before returning to G.U. as a lecturer in the Department of Astronomy. “It was a few years later when I received my ‘call up,’” Roy recalls his introduction to psychical research. “I lost my way in the old university library and found shelves of books on spiritualism and psychical research. My first ignorant reaction was ‘What is this rubbish doing in a university library?’ But curiosity made me open some of the books. I was surprised to recognize some of the authors of this ‘rubbish,’ such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor William James, Professor Sir William Crookes, and so on. My balloon of ignorance was punctured by the needle of my scientific curiosity and I found myself called up to a new career.

Ever since then, Roy has pursued a scientific career in both astronomy and psychical research. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society, the British Interplanetary Society, the Society for Psychical Research (of which he is a past-president) and Scottish Society for Psychical Research (of which he was the founder). He is also a member of the International Astronomical Union, which honored him for his work in astronomy by naming an asteroid after him.

Professor Roy, your nearly 600-page book, was clearly a monumental project. What prompted you to undertake such a book?

“I well remember the first visit Monty Keen and I made to Honiton to meet Lady Alison Kremer, granddaughter of Gerald, 2nd Earl of Balfour. She had been left the large archive of documents collected by her mother Jean, Countess of Balfour, who had added to them from 1930 onwards, when the Sidgwick Group appointed her their official archivist of anything related to the Cross-Correspondences (C-C). Very little of this archive had ever been published and I could see why. After a preliminary study of the archive I knew I had to accept Lady Kremer’s invitation to prepare it for publication. I also knew it would be a long and formidable task assessing the material, ordering it in importance, balancing it and bringing into a more readable form the scores of letters, memoranda, hundreds of automatic writings, considered and confidential opinions of Gerald, his sister Mrs. Sidgwick, Sir Oliver Lodge, Mr. Piddington and others, the part played by Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister in the first decade of the 20th century. And from behind the curtain of death, so to speak, came compelling evidence in the archive that the group of seven, Myers, Gurney, Sidgwick, William Balfour, Edith Lyttelton, Annie Marshall and Mary Catherine Lyttelton, still existed, still had an astounding agenda to be pursued, the Story and the Plan.

“The majority of psychical researchers have long considered the C-C to be a major – possibly the major – survival-related material in existence. But to tackle it required certain qualities. My colleague Monty once likened a serious attempt to research the C-C, in mountaineering terms, to be akin to an assault on the north face of the Eiger. My own feelings were that I required time, patience and optimism. Optimism, well, I was beginning the task in 1998, when I was 74 years of age. And I learned patience in my teens when I spent three years in a TB sanatorium.

“In fact it took almost ten years, studying the material, doing additional research to check data, writing successive drafts and persuading numerous colleagues to read and criticise them, revising and cutting down the length, finding a publisher and collaborating with Book Guild over many months in producing the book – they did a marvelous job.

“The most difficult part of this long slog was to cut out innumerable parts of the material concerning fascinating events in the Victorian era and the 20th century, little-known items of real interest regarding real people. But that is always the way in authorship and I am deeply grateful to all who helped me.”

If you could go back in time and meet one of the people involved with the cross-correspondences, who would it be?

“Inevitably I choose Frederic Myers as the one. Ever since I obtained many years ago a copy of the two-volume edition of his book Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, I have placed him as the greatest, most talented pioneer of psychical research. His brilliant insight into the nature of human personality lifts him to the same elevated rung of the ladder of human genius as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Clerk Maxwell, Einstein and those others whose contributions to humanity have been gloriously illuminating beacons amid the darkness of unreason, prejudice, violence, cruelty and downright evil acts of our species. What can I say about Myers that hasn’t already been said by those who knew him, admired him unreservedly and acknowledged his fabulous contribution to our subject? Luminaries such as Charles Richet, William James, Theodor Flournoy, Oliver Lodge, William Barrett and many others then and since have testified to Myers’ many-faceted stature. He was not valued by those who knew him solely because of his contributions to it but also because of his loveable and endearing personality. I have said elsewhere that if William Wordsworth demonstrated that he was the psychical researcher of poets, Frederic Myers was the poet of psychical research.

“I will content myself with just one quotation. Charles Richet said: ‘If Myers was not a mystic, he had all the faith of a mystic and the ardour of an apostle, in conjunction with the sagacity and precision of a savant.’ And yet just a few years ago, a young parapsychologist at the International Conference of the Society for Psychical Research could begin his presentation by referring to him vaguely as ‘Some guy called Myers.’ The audience’s frisson of surprise was akin to that we would expect at a modern physics conference if a young speaker had used the phrase ‘Some guy called Einstein’.

“To me Myers is one I would dearly love to meet, not because I could teach him anything but simply because I would enjoy the company and friendship of a superb, enormously-talented and loveable man, one of the three major founding fathers of psychical research, Sidgwick, Gurney and ‘some guy called Myers’.”

If the cross-correspondences are actual communication from the spirit world, do you think Frederic Myers and the other spirit messengers realized they would be so difficult to understand? Couldn’t they have come up with something less complicated and still made their point?

“ Essentially, the C-C originated in a deceptively-simple idea. Someone who has died transmits to a number of mediums or automatists scattered round the world snippets of a theme dreamed up by him. The snippets received by any one automatist do not make any sense whatever to him or her. Only by bringing all the snippets together does the theme become clear. Moreover, that theme is characteristic of the intelligence and learning and personality of the sender who even, when he finds the group of investigators having serious difficulties in interpreting the collected snippets, speaks through the scripts directly to them, chiding and teasing them in the manner of a kindly teacher with an obtuse class. He then gives hints to them to aid them in their interpretation of the scripts.

“The difficulties really begin to mount when we realise that the group of seven on the other side of death had a decidedly complicated agenda. They continued to ‘dictate’ scripts for over thirty years. They, especially Myers, cleverly used levels of classical allusions and literary references that to very few modern people make any sense at all, so philistine have our educational standards become. Add to that the fact that there are many thousands of pages that anyone nowadays would have to study and so would require a very long time to do so. But the idea is a brilliant one and one might well ask if there is anything better in the history of psychical research. That to me is a very important question. Almost all of the psychical researchers of the past right up to the present, who have died, have included scientists of many kinds, many of them top rank. If they have survived the death of the body, why have they not used their expertise to give us a far more dependable post-mortem communication method? As far as I know, they haven’t. Therefore to me, Myers’ method is still the best.”

As I recall from reading one of the books on the Scole experiments, you were involved. Would you mind relating a little of what you observed?

“I played a very small part in the Scole experiment. The principal researchers were Professor Arthur Ellison, Professor David Fontana and Montague Keen. I was taken to the Scole site on one occasion, not because of a lack of interest on my part but purely because of distance. Nevertheless every time I met Monty he kept me informed about events at the circle. On the evening I was present I sat where I could satisfactorily see and hear what was happening. The conversation between the experimenters and the mediums’ controls was fascinating. The proceedings became even more interesting to me when the ‘control’ known as the scientist spoke to me, welcoming me and saying that he had carried out some of the pioneering work of calculating periodic orbits of planets and satellites. He discussed with me some of the technicalities and difficulties he had experienced and referred to the fact that in his day there were no computers such as I could now use. Afterwards I realised that there were only about a score of people in the UK who would have been able to have a conversation with me at that level of expertise on that subject. And as far as I know, the mediums had not been given my identity and profession. I also realised that the scientist bore quite a resemblance to George Darwin, related to Charles Darwin, who had indeed carried out such pioneering calculations on periodic orbits. But again, as seems to happen to many circles that terminate unexpectedly, the Scole circle did likewise on the grounds that it had to cease because its operation was interfering with the ability of time-travelers to pass from one galaxy to another! As we say laconically in Glasgow when our boggle-factor is surpassed: ‘Aye, that’ll be right.’”

What other cases have you found especially interesting and evidential?

“Apart from the crucially important cases in my book The Archives of the Mind, none of which I personally investigated, over 30 years of my own investigations have provided me with a wide variety of ostensibly paranormal cases. Usually studied with a colleague, they often originated as cries for help from people convinced that they or their homes were haunted. Some cases were found to be non-paranormal, for instance as imaginative misinterpretations of unusual noises – the peremptory knocking of a water-hammer, or sadly, mental trouble. But some did involve paranormal phenomena. Some were poltergeist cases, others were apparitional and some were mixed. In some we found evidence of intrusion from the other side of death, of ‘unfinished business’, of maliciousness, of a wish to dominate. In some we could identify the problem and even take measures to solve it, operating not so much as psychical researchers but more akin to psychical plumbers! Hopefully we learned from every case but our prime concern in each was to help the unhappy family who called us in.”

Does any one case stand out in your recollection?

“One case stands out in my mind. In 1972 I became involved in the Maxwell Park case with my colleague, the Rev. Max Magee, chaplain to the students of Strathclyde University. It was a powerful poltergeist case which had lasted half a year before I was called in. The family members were terrified by the physical manifestations that tormented them. When they fled to a relative’s house, the phenomena did likewise and even continued there, after the family in despair returned to their own house, as though in some way the relative’s family had been infected. In time some fifty people were witnesses, including cynical journalists, town councilors, doctors, policemen and others, turned from original scepticism to utter conviction that they had witnessed the paranormal. A police officer told me, ‘You know, I had to take some of my men off that case. They were turning in reports like ‘The bed was proceeding in a northerly direction.’

“Most of the phenomena included classical poltergeist events such as alarming noises, fires breaking out, floods of water, psychokinetic movements of a wide variety of objects, many seemingly perpetrated by malicious intent. It became clear to Max and I that there were attempts to control the two boys – at times they carried out feats of strength or skills that they could not possibly have acquired normally. We found it necessary over many months to, turn about, stay until late at night to support the family who were losing weight, exhibiting extreme stress bringing them to the edge of complete nervous breakdowns. Finally Max, in his capacity as a minister of religion, aided by myself, persuaded the family one Sunday evening to go to church. While they were there, Max and I went through the house room by room, carrying out a service of ‘cleansing’ in each.

“I wish I could say that that was what got rid of the haunting. The poltergeist phenomena did cease, the boys no longer exhibited symptoms of possession and the family’s lives were transformed. But to be accurate, about the same time, the man downstairs, with whom the family had been having a vendetta for years, died. In addition we persuaded the father to send the older boy, who seemed the main focus, up north to stay with his grandparents for some weeks. So we were unable to achieve a complete understanding why the phenomena ceased. But we did learn a lot, perhaps the most important being that if you embark upon such an investigation, you must sign on for the duration, for a family in the middle of the poltergeist hurricane desperately needs support, sympathy and led to understand that these cases have happened innumerable times, but like an illness, will run their course, exhibit their symptoms and some day, hopefully, we will be able to do more than simply offer moral support.”

What are your present views on survival?

“To me, at the present time, the evidence for the survival of bodily death is of such strength that it is the most parsimonious theory accounting for much more than any other. Even the file theory, which supposes that throughout a person’s life a record of that person’s life from their point of view (POV) is made until their bodily death, is not so convincing. Certainly the file cannot be supposed to be physical, for long after the death of the brain, children recall the details of a previous life, accepting it as a former life they had, since memories of that life are recalled from the POV of the former person. To me the researches of Stevenson and Haraldsson are convincing in this area that survival of death in some way takes place. Possession cases such as those of Lurancy Vennum, Uttara Huddar, Sumitra, Jasbir Lal Jat add strength to that concept. Certain ‘drop in’ cases also strengthen the concept.

“Indeed the wide variety of such cases are so evidentially strong that they support a challenge I made in print twelve years ago to any sceptic that if s/he believes no proof of a paranormal event has ever been produced they should submit in detail normal explanations for the long list of cases I gave. The silence from the sceptics has been deafening, a silence that reminds me of Sherlock Holmes chiding of Dr Watson because of his non-appreciation of the significance of the dog that did not bark in the night. Or the trick of young children who, displeased with the real world, close their eyes and believe that by so doing, they have cancelled that displeasing world. Or the late Sam Goldwyn who allegedly shouted, “Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up!”

Are you working on anything now?

“My colleague Tricia Robertson and I have almost finished the first draft of a new book, PRESENCES, Facets of Human Personality Before, and After, Death. In a way it is a sequel to my book, The Archives of the Mind and assesses evidence for a large additional variety of paranormal phenomena. I am also working on a true detective story, written almost in a manner of a CSI program. But in this case, CSI stands for Celestial Sphere Investigation into a particular event, the deliberate creation of the stellar constellation figures.”

[an error occurred while processing this directive]